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Big as ever, Raji looks as strong as ever

Aug. 2, 2012
 

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Green Bay Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji during training camp practice at Ray Nitschke Field on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette

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At 337 pounds, the 6-foot-2 B.J. Raji has done just fine for himself with the Green Bay Packers.

In his three NFL seasons, Raji has missed only two games. The last two seasons, he has played in 37 games, including playoffs, which is the most by any defensive lineman in the league. He was a Pro Bowl alternate in 2010 and was voted in for the first time last season.

He played more snaps than any of the Packers’ defensive linemen last season.

Yet there are those in the Packers organization who would love to see what Raji could do if he were, say, five or 10 pounds lighter.

“I get that a lot,” Raji said with a hearty laugh. “What people don’t understand, just dropping 10 pounds like that is not as easy as it sounds.”

Make no mistake about it, Raji doesn’t appear to take a cavalier approach to his weight and conditioning.

For the third straight offseason, he worked out with the same New Jersey personal trainer that trains New York Giants defensive linemen Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora. Those workouts resumed shortly after the Packers lost to the Giants in the playoffs, continued until he reported to Green Bay for the offseason program on April 16 and then picked up again when he returned home after the mid-June minicamp.

This offseason, he added boxing to his workouts after Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers was extolling the virtures of it while the two talked football in Hawaii during the Pro Bowl.

“I think it helps my punch, my explosion and hand speed,” Raji said. “I tried that out, and I liked it.”

So far, it looks like it has paid off. Raji has been tough to block in the one-on-one drills, winning five of his first 12 reps in a drill that’s heavily slanted toward the offensive linemen.

Raji said he reported to training camp right at his usual 337 pounds. He, too, wonders what he might be able to do if he were closer to 327 pounds, but he doesn’t take it as a knock when people think he’d be more effective if he were lighter.

“I look at that as a compliment,” Raji said. “I’ve heard some negative stuff about how my play has dropped off, but I look at it like, hey, people are going to have their opinions about you as a player. It’s the NFL. It’s America. But if people see talent in you, if people didn’t think I could play, they would have no complaints. But people see things in me they like, and they want to see more out of me, and I want to see more out of myself. So we’re on the page.”

Added Raji: “Losing 10 pounds could only help, but dropping that kind of weight that quickly I don’t think would be a good idea.”

Defensive line coach Mike Trgovac wouldn’t get into specifics about Raji’s weight, saying only that it’s something he monitors closely.

“It’s always a challenge for those defensive tackles to keep that weight down, and that’s what we’re on with him,” Trgovac said. “He’s done a nice job. He came in here (for training camp) pretty good, and we’re continuing to work on that with him. Just like any guy of his body type, that’s the challenge with them. I’ve seen a lot of guys come in that way, and they get big. It’s hard to lose it.

“That’s going to be our continued goal with him, to make sure he doesn’t get that weight up. But that’s not untypical for a guy of his build. We’re talking discipline with him all the time.”

Even though Raji made the Pro Bowl last season, his play — like the Packers’ defense as a whole — slipped from 2010 to 2011. Last season, defensive coordinator Dom Capers flip-flopped Raji and Ryan Pickett, moving Raji to primarily end and Pickett to nose tackle in the base defense. Raji also played one of the two defensive tackle spots in the nickel to total 937 snaps, or about 90 percent of the defensive plays, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

His tackle numbers dropped from 66 (including 36 solo stops) in 2010 to 43 (19 solos), and his sacks were more than cut in half, from 6˝ to three.

“I can play better,” Raji said. “Obviously, I know I can. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. I can do some things better, and we can do some things better on defense. That’s the good thing about football, every year you get a chance to prove yourself.”

This year, it appears Raji, at least so far in camp, has moved back to end in the base.

“Last year, we experimented a little bit,” Raji said. “I think now that we have it on film, I’ll be better for it.”

Capers also wants to reduce Raji’s workload. Adding defensive linemen Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels in the draft should help. Both have played alongside or in place of Raji in the sub packages.

“Last year, B.J. had a big year,” Pickett said. “This year, I would expect him to have a better year. We’ve got a lot of guys that can help us now, so he’ll probably get less reps, and I think that helps everybody.”

rdemovsk@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @RobDemovsky.

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